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B4RN to Break Even with its 1Gbps FTTH Broadband in Lancashire UK

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 (7:06 am) - Score 1,809

The not for profit B4RN (Broadband 4 Rural North) network, which is rolling out a “hyperfast” 1000Mbps capable and community-built Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband service in rural Lancashire (England), has nearly connected 350 properties to its platform and that’s roughly the point at which they expect to break-even.

ISPreview.co.uk understands that B4RN, which recently reached the village of Wray (this is expected to be a “big customer base” for their service because it’s home to around 500-600 people), has now dug a total of 160km of fibre optic cable ducts and connected almost 350 premises (up from 170 in July 2013).

Apparently over 100 local land owners have given the network access and uptake remains considerably higher than the national average. The project told ISPreview.co.uk that a “conservative figure across the patch” would be around 65% with some areas over 90%.

The success is at least partly down to the fact that local people help to build the network in return for shares and that fosters both interest and trust. But of course having a 1Gbps line helps too, especially if you struggled to get a reliable connection before.

In terms of funding, B4RN informed ISPreview.co.uk that they’ve so far managed to raise around £600,000 from shares, plus another £250,000 due to people who have dug but not yet claimed their shares (this is rising all the time as more people get involved at different stages).

At present B4RN’s focus is still on building out their core network between Quernmore and Arkholme in the Lower Lune Valley area (around 8 parishes and 1,400 premises). But progress after this stage could be slower due to the Government’s £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) scheme being stuck in a state of seemingly perpetual paralysis (here).

The project had been hoping to secure a grant of £875k from the RCBF, which could have been used to help reach 21 parishes “on the edges of our network” (3,200 premises). However, like many other altnet schemes, they’ve been left in the lurch by the Government’s failure to resolve the issue of BDUK funded superfast broadband coverage.

A bank loan of £500k, which could also be used to help improve their coverage, is still on the table but it might come attached to a 10 year payback and could force them to adopt a more “commercial approach” (i.e. cherry picking the most economically viable clusters before later coming back to the remotest parts). Still we understand that discussion over the loan is moving in a positive direction.

Despite all of these problems B4RN has persevered with a difficult build, through rain, mud, wind and snow (plus the odd fibre eating rodent), to deliver broadband into many isolated areas where until recently the very concept of “fast Internet access” remained a laughable joke told over countless afternoon teas and cake. Well we assume there’s cake, there had better be cake, but we’d settle for scones.

Leave a Comment
10 Responses
  1. Avatar Sledgehammer says:

    Good news, I hope you can do a lot more for people in your expanding area.

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @Chris – congrats, can you confirm, that to date your cost per customer connected is circa £1,100, while it will cost a further £600 each for customers passed but not yet connected.

      If so, this is deeply encouraging as LA’s could, where powering cabinets requires a ransom fee, switch to pushing fibre out to terminating fibre on a manifold from where FTTP could be ordered. Given the greater than £200 per premise past subsidy for FTTC, this must be becoming an increasingly viable alternative?

  2. Avatar Lindsey Annison says:

    Of course there’s cake!! There’s always cake in B4RN. It’s the law 😉

  3. Avatar FibreFred says:

    So they have enough current money to server 1,400 props is that right? Even if they only get that far its a great achievement

    Although wont the “commercial approach” fly in the face of what they stand for? Won’t they have their own digital divide and final 3rd?

    1. Avatar dragoneast says:

      Why the quibbles? B4RN and plenty of small ISPs are doing a great job for some people, so are BT et all. One size doesn’t fit everybody. Why should it? The market should hopefully develop to allow people to find a service that suits them. It doesn’t happen overnight, but I think we’re getting there.

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      No quibbles from me as it makes perfect business sense to only rollout where there are customers that will sign up but it is at odds with Chris conders vision – digital divide , leaving people without a good service etc

    3. Avatar gerarda says:

      The BDUK rollout is increasing the digital divide on a nationwide basis. B4RN is neither here nor there compared to the millions that will have only a tiny fraction of the so-called superfast speeds

    4. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Doesn’t matter gerada, it goes against their own vision:-

      “The purpose of the project is to take a new approach to the ownership, financial and deployment models used traditionally, and still proposed by, telecommunications companies. These models invariably leave rural areas outside of the scope of economic viability for the telecoms companies, and have helped to create the Digital Divide between rural and urban Britain. ”

      As I say they will be creating their own digital divide in their own back yard. But I’m afraid this is reality and one they might now be starting to understand. You can only do so much with a budget and it costs more to get to some areas than others, what they are seeing now on a small scale is how it is across the rest of the country. You can’t bring these services to everyone with only so much money in the pot.

    5. Avatar cyberdoyle says:

      The difference between the altnet/B4RN approach is that they could ‘cherrypick’ a few lucrative areas ie those with more than 20 houses 😉 in order to build the customer base to support the harder ones. The telcos just cherrypick for profit. B4RN will re-invest any income over expenditure to help everyone get a fit for purpose connection. It won’t say ‘oh we can’t reach you, you can have a satellite’ or it won’t expect people to put up with the ‘upto’ 2 Mbps USC. The really hard bit of the build is almost complete, with only the odd house or farm every kilometre. The core route links up all the little villages and hamlets. That is where the income will come from to help the others. The funding if it comes would vastly speed the job up. It would also enable B4RN to reach even more places outside the phases planned. In any case, the ‘cherrypicking’ is already in areas that BT have deemed to be too difficult to do. The whole of the B4RN area is in the final 10%. Most of it, even the hamlets are in the final 3% as defined by BT on the top of jubliee tower on the OneShow programme. This sort of project is what the rural funding was for, and it is disgraceful that the incumbent has effectively scooped it all up to stop altnets getting it. Its also disgraceful that the funding is being used as a stop gap instead of building something futureproof. Yes a lot of people will get a tremendous (by present perceptions) speed boost on their phone line connections, but the whole job will be to do properly one day, and the sooner people realise this the better. We cannot continue to use an expensive copper phone network with its failing long lines, and decrepit exchanges and demoralised engineers and high running costs. We shouldn’t ask what a real fibre infrastructure will cost, we should ask what is it going to cost us as a nation if we don’t build a futureproof solution? If we can put billions into a fast train for a few, why can’t we build a proper network for telecoms? Starting in the rural areas, and feeding into the cities.

  4. Avatar cyberdoyle says:

    Power to the People. Nice to have good news.

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